It is sad to note that when we read about medical cannabis and how effective it is in the treatment of certain conditions and symptoms, it almost always ends with a reminder or disclaimer: that clinical trials are lacking. Most articles related to cannabis and health never fail to mention that more studies need to be conducted in order to support anecdotal evidence or a more conclusive finding.
So, naturally, when there are reports of clinical trials involving cannabis-based treatments, it is always great news. Scientific research using medical marijuana and involving real people with specific health issues will take us closer to finding definite answers, which will, in turn, take us closer to worldwide legalization.
Alzheimer’s Research UK’s announcement that it will fund a pioneering clinical trial on the use of cannabis-based treatment for people with dementia is one of these fantastic news. Azheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading dementia research charity.
The clinical trial will be conducted at King’s College London and it will involve the use of Sativex, which is a cannabis-based mouth spray containing a 1:1 ratio of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Researchers are hoping that the drug will help calm signs of aggression or agitation among people suffering from dementia.
Sativex is the brand name for nabiximols is a specific cannabis extract developed in mouth spray form by GW Pharmaceuticals. It was approved as a botanical drug in the UK in 2010 to alleviate neuropathic pain, overactive bladder, spasticity, and other symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Currently, Sativex is not licensed in the UK for any other indication.
As the charity pointed out, dementia is caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s and it is not just limited to the loss of one’s memory and thinking capacity. People with dementia can experience a wide range of symptoms, too, including changes to their behavior.
Alzheimer’s Research UK is committing nearly £300,000 for what it calls a landmark phase II clinical trial of Sativex. The Sativex for the Treatment of AgitatioN in Dementia (STAND) clinical trial will test whether it is feasible to treat agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
Chris Albertyn, Research Portfolio Lead at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, proposed the study and will run the trial under the supervision of lead researcher Prof. Dag Aarsland, who is an Old Age Psychiatrist.
Aarsland said that current treatments for psychiatric and behavioral symptoms of dementia are very limited. That is why there is a desperate need to develop alternatives. He also noted that doctors sometimes prescribe anti-psychotic medications, and while these meds can have important benefits, they still need to be weighed against the risk of serious side effects.
The study team will recruit volunteers aged 55 to 90 who are living in care homes and who have Alzheimer’s disease with symptoms of aggression and agitation. Volunteers of the STAND trial will take Sativex for four weeks and the research team will compare the results from those who are taking the medication and those who are taking a placebo.
The successful completion of the STAND trial will indicate to scientists that they should go on to perform a much larger Sativex clinical trial involving people with Alzheimer’s.
Dr. David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said that without any new dementia treatments in over 15 years, it is important that they test a wide range of approaches to find effective ways to help people suffering from the condition.
He added that while the major focus for dementia research is the development of drugs that stop or slow down the progression of the physical diseases that contribute to dementia, it also matters that there is a medicine that benefits the day-to-day lives of the patients.